Historic Airplanes: A Reliquary for the Spirit and Soul of Their Crews

By Scott Spangler on November 23rd, 2015 | 3 Comments »

MB Crew

NAHA-158The men who united as a crew in the vertical war over Europe after Pearl Harbor have all since surrendered, as we all must one day, to time. Its last living member, radio operator Robert Hanson, passed into history in 2005 at age 85. But their spirits and souls live on in the reliquary that fused their individual personalities into historic airplanes like the Memphis Belle.

Standing before its wingless fuselage in the crowded restoration hangar of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, under its iconic nose art I see the crew of the Memphis Belle, men just past 20, bundled up in sheepskin and thick coveralls. They are, from left, Harold Loch, Cecil Scott, Robert Hanson, James Verinis, Robert Morgan, Charles Leighton, John Quinlan, Casmer Nastal, Vincent Evans, and Clarence Winchell.

Portrayed in an eponymous motion picture, Hollywood history has confused the significance of what these men achieved in the Memphis Belle. It was not the historic airplane before me that successfully flew 25 missions, it was the team that gave it life. Consistent through all the history of the era I’ve read, including The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle, written by Robert Morgan and Ron Powers in 2001, daylight bombing early in the war endured an 80-percent casualty rate.

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Measuring Aviation Rewards: A Personal Hall of Fame

By Scott Spangler on November 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

NAHA-73Gathering with my aeronautical peers, I rarely participate in conversations in which they compare their cumulative and recent aviation rewards in terms of certificates and ratings earned, total hours logged, or most recent aircraft flown. While I share in the joy of their accomplishments—and sometimes envy them—I measure my aviation rewards by a different standard.

Like my peers, I share their overwhelming passion for flight. But making the most of available opportunity, circumstance, and individual interest, I’ve grown into an erudite aviator. The aviation rewards that I relish is association with others who have shared their more extensive knowledge and experience with me, and the opportunity to share what they have taught me with others.

Every aviator, I’m sure, has enshrined these notable individuals in his or her personal hall of fame. Mine was founded with the flight instructors who patiently conveyed the aeronautical knowledge and stick-and-rudder skills that realized my aviation dreams. Their names, Kim Middleton, Kerry Rowan, and Caroline Kalman, are unknown to most, but that does not diminish their contribution to those of us who were their students.

In select circles of aviation, some of my personal enshrinees are better known, like Loren Doughty and David Borrows, who demystified the complexity of helicopter flight by talking me through my first hand attempts at it. Dave Gwinn, Terry Blake, and Hal Shevers taught me different aspects of the business of aviation, and dedicated FAAers, who I’m sure wish to preserve their anonymity, took me behind the curtain of terminal and en route air traffic control, flight standards, and the nuances of flight test and aircraft certification.

In my mind there is a wing reserved for those who fostered my opportunities as an aviation word merchant. Gary Worden, Melissa Murphy, Dave Ewald, Pat Luebke, Jack Olcott, and Rob Mark not only taught me by example, they endured my trials and tribulations as I worked to achieve our common successes. Without them, I would not have been able to learn from so many others.

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Generations of Aviation Relevance

By Scott Spangler on October 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

NAHA-28On my inaugural visit to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, I expected nothing more than the opportunity to meet many of the airplanes I’ve read about in their tactile, three-dimensional magnificence. The museum, part of the National Aviation Heritage Area that encompasses Dayton, Ohio, and its surrounding communities, more than met my expectation. Unexpected was the epiphany that arose from an obscure airplane, a simple but vexing question, and the spirit of my father, a naval aviator who joined his World War II compatriots in 2008.

The Air Force Museum has divided its vast collection by conflict/era in four huge hangars: World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the new hangar, which is open in the spring, which will display the collection’s experimental aircraft, such as the X-15. Walking in the World War II hangar with Paul Dye, editor of Kitplanes magazine, we came across the AT-9 and wondered who had given a Twin Beech an Art Deco makeover. Seeing the airplane in profile, I realized that I’d seen the airplane before, in two-dimensions. And thinking of the worn Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters Handbook, published by the National Aeronautics Council in 1943, resurrected my father’s spirit, for it was his NavCad book bag, and he used it to teach me to read words and airplanes.

NAHA-255Edited by Ensign L.C. Guthman, the handbook categorized the Allied and Axis aircraft of the era by number of engines, from six to gliders, and the position of their wings, high, mid-wing, and low. The AT-9, an advanced trainer, made by Curtiss-Wright, the nacelles of its two Lycoming R-680-9 radial engines extending beyond its Art Deco nose, is on page 134. Not far from what may well be the last tangible example of this little known airplane is the airplane on page 135, the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando.

As we wandered through the connecting hallway that led to the Cold War, Paul asked an often-posed question: Why has interest in the aircraft of World War II endured in their popularity compared to the veterans who flew during the conflicts waged during my lifetime, Korea and Vietnam? The kernel of one possible answer was planted when I noticed a heavily armed Predator drone flying above a heavily armed Skyraider that saw service in Southeast Asia.

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Dayton NAHA: A Model for the Rebirth of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on October 5th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

Graphic design for the NAHA Aviation Writers SummitWhen the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, a coalition formed by the leaders of the 19 sites that comprise the National Aviation Heritage Area (both served by the NAHA acronym), invited me to its inaugural Aviation Writers Summit in Dayton, Ohio, I accepted without expectations. My anticipation of the event, which concluded last Friday afternoon, was eager because we would visit many of the sites that have long been on my aviation to-do list. But the symposium held a subtle surprise worth much more than tick marks on my selfish list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. It is a lesson for everyone in aviation that might hold the key to the industry’s rebirth.

If there has been a common denominator to the countless aviation media events I’ve attended for nearly three decades it is that the effort is focused on enlarging a single slice of the shrinking aviation pie. In a larger context, one could argue that the summit’s goal was the same, but scaling generalizations works in both directions. With 19 NAHA sites represented, not once during our daily interactions with their leaders at receptions or dinners, did any conversation, participatory or overheard, deviate from the shared goal of improving the lot of everyone involved. In many cases, the conversations delved into the ways the larger members, like the National Museum of the United States Air Force, have, are, and will support the whole.

clip_image002The symposium (its participants here with Amanda Wright Lane and Smithsonian aviation curator Tom Crouch at the 1905 Wright Flyer) was elegantly organized and efficiently run, and the defining example of it was the announcement to all during the reception at the National Aviation Hall of Fame before we all adjourned to the adjacent Air Force Museum for dinner. Explaining that when mixing different groups people tend to congregate with those they already know, to integrate the aviation writers and the individual NAHA site leaders the evening’s emcee, Susan Richardson, asked everyone to sit at the table indicated by the number on the back of our nametags. I was at No. 4. This resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable dinner conversation with the nine other people at the table because no single facet of aviation dominated it.

Promising to write about any of the NAHA sites was not a requirement for accepting the Aviation Writers Summit invitation. They would be thrilled if that happened, naturally, and they openly hoped that we aviation word merchants would become their advocates, which is the hope of every media event organizer. And they made one of me, but not because of my to-do items it ticked, but because of how it was organized and presented. That a diverse group from the aviation community on any scale can focus on efforts to sustain and improve the activities of all is evidence that aviation, at least at its birthplace in (as its residents call it) “Dayton O.” has a future. –Scott Spangler, Editor

ATC and Pilots: When to Keep your Mouth Shut and when to Speak Up

By Robert Mark on September 28th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

ATC and Pilots

This sounds a bit pathetic, but most of the professional pilots I’ve known in my life have been smart alecks, me included … always ready with an opinion, whether anyone asked for it or not. We’re all control freaks to some degree I suppose, not an earth-shattering revelation of course, because those are the kind of people you want around when it’s time to grab the controls and say, “I’ve got it.”

Sometimes knowing when not to grab the microphone in the cockpit though, can be just as important, especially for me when it comes to ATC at least. I spent a decade of my aviation life in a control tower and behind a radar scope, which was just enough to qualify me – by my standards of course – as an expert.

MSN

Madison Wi (MSN)

Case in point to grabbing that microphone occurred at Madison, Wis., a few weeks ago with a student in the Cirrus. We were VFR in right traffic for Runway 31 and requesting multiple “option approaches,” the ones that leave it to us to decide whether we’ll make a full stop, stop and go, low approach, or whatever might be left. The long runway, 18-36, was closed for construction and some itinerant traffic was using Runway 3-21. BTW, tower assigned us Runway 31 which I did wonder about with traffic on Runway 3, but then since every controller runs their traffic patterns a little differently I thought no more about it.

After the third or fourth option approach, the tower cleared us to land on Runway 31, but never explained why. On touch down, I simply forgot and told the student “let’s go” and he added full power and reduced the flap setting. As soon as we broke ground the “cleared to land” part flashed in my mind. Maybe 100 feet in the air, the local controller in MSN tower firmly reminds me that when he says cleared to land, he means cleared to land. I really tried not to respond, but of course I did, “Sorry about that. My fault. But 18/36 is closed right?” as in, so what was the real problem other than my failure to follow orders. I honestly didn’t know.

Someone in the tower keyed the mic as if they were going to say something and then decided against it. We landed about 15 minutes later and the ground controller reminded me that I had earlier been cleared to land on Runway 31 and that they really need me to follow instructions in the future. Of course you know I keyed the microphone and asked again what the issue was other than blowing the order … “Did I conflict with some other aircraft?” “No, but you were cleared to land, not for an option,” he said. Since the other pilot was becoming uncomfortable with the exchange I just said, “Roger. Thanks,” and let it go. After all, I did blow it. I just would have liked to have known a bit more, but I decided to just let it go.

ENW

Kenosha Wi. (ENW)

Jump ahead a month or so and I’m again acting as CFI in the traffic pattern at Kenosha, Wis., this time having watched the other pilot I’m flying with land out of a really nicely handled circling instrument approach. We decide to stay in the VFR traffic pattern for a bit so the controller in the tower – obviously working both tower and ground himself – taxies us to Runway 7 Left. As we taxi, I hear him chatting with a Citabria pilot he’s sending to Runway 7 Right. About now I became occupied watching my pilot prepare for another takeoff.

Some part of my brain must have heard the tower clear the Citabria for takeoff from the right runway with a left turn out, just before he cleared us from the left runway, but it remained one of those distant notes in my brain until we were about 200 feet in the air. That’s when I saw the taildragger cutting across our path from the right. I instinctively told the pilot I was flying with to head right behind the Citabria as the ENW controller mentioned him as “traffic ahead and to our right.” He was a lot more than that. If we hadn’t turned, it would have been close.

The pilot flying with me looked at me in wonderment as I just shook my head and keyed the microphone … “nice tower.” No response.

I rang the tower manager a few days later on the phone because I wanted him to know how close I thought we would have been had we not banked right after takeoff. I told him I thought the ENW tower controller just plum forgot about the taildragger off the right when he cleared us for takeoff. I got it. It happens. I just wanted to see if I’d missed something here too.

Sad to say but the tower manager at Kenosha never rang back.

This is where it becomes tough for me. Should I ring the tower manager again and risk sounding like a know-it-all? I make mistakes too. What do you think? Let me know at rob@jetwhine.com.

Note: This story ran originally at the AOPA Opinion Leaders blog.

Above & Beyond: Volunteer Pilots Fight for Israel

By Scott Spangler on September 21st, 2015 | 3 Comments »
Trailer for Above and Beyond.

Wandering through the recently added titles to Netflix’s “watch now” films the other night, I came across Above and Beyond, a documentary about the birth of what became the Israeli Air Force during the nation’s 1948 fight for survival. (It’s also available on-demand and through iTunes.)

And that’s about all I knew about this chapter of aviation history. But after watching this comprehensive recounting of events, including interviews with the surviving aviators, my initial reaction was, Why haven’t we heard more about this! It is a story far more compelling than the American Volunteer Group (AVG) that fought, as the Flying Tigers, for the Chinese early in World War II.

The AVG had the wink-and-nod support of the U.S. Government. The American volunteer pilots, ground crews, and others who volunteered to fight for Israel not only risked their lives, their U.S. citizenship was also on the line. Al Schwimmer (that’s him, left), the American businessman who bought surplus U.S. C-46 cargo planes, among others, and illegally hopscotched them around the world to Israel, lost his. Staying in Israel, he founded Israel Aircraft Industries, and in 2001, President Clinton pardoned him.

Most of the U.S. volunteer pilots, like Milton Rubenfield, father of the actor we know at Paul Rubens (nee Pee-wee Herman)  were Jewish, but a number of them were not. And irony does not begin to describe their first fighter aircraft, Czech-built Messerschmitt Bf-109 with engines coming from a variety of aircraft described only as “bombers.” Later, they replaced them with Spitfires, and a surplus B-17 was its bomber.

The nascent Israeli Air Force was small, but it made a difference. It’s a compelling story too long overlooked, and as a documentary, Above and Beyond sets a new standard of excellence. And some of its best parts are the interviews with the pilots who risked it all. Now in the deep winter of their lives, they all still possess—and exhibit—the self-confident swagger that led them to volunteer for what many in 1948 was sure to be a lost cause. I may watch it again tonight. – Scott Spangler, Editor

United Airlines: Time to Stop Just Talking About Customers

By Robert Mark on September 16th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

United LogoOver the last 20 years, we all listened to one United CEO after another talk about how much they value their customers.

Enough talk.

United’s new CEO Oscar Munoz needs to stop the talking and start showing customers if the carrier ever really wants to again be great. Give a listen and tell me what you think. 

Rob Mark, publisher

Labor of Love: Capturing Veteran Leather

By Scott Spangler on September 7th, 2015 | Comments Off on Labor of Love: Capturing Veteran Leather

clement 1When John Slemp came to the JetWhine.com lunch at EAA AirVenture 2015, he carried with him a large flat package that was maybe 20 by 24 inches by an inch deep and wrapped in brown paper. At such gatherings, most people just show up with their appetites, and as we later learned, John did, too, and it was wrapped in brown paper.

John is a commercial photographer with more than two decades of experience who, since 2001, has specialized in aviation. But his commercial work pays for his labor of love, photographing the decorated veteran leather flight jackets from conflicts past. And when they are still with us, and able to sit for his camera, the veterans who wore the iconic U.S. Army Air Force A-2 and U.S. Navy G-2 flight jackets. In the brown paper were several mounted prints of these spectacular images.

So far he’s photographed 31 pieces of veteran leather, and when he reaches his goal of 50, he plans to publish a book that will really be about, he said, the veterans who wore the jackets pictured. The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and others have opened their closets to the project that began at a meeting of EAA Chapter 690 in Lawrenceville, Georgia, with the jacket pictured above. (You can see more at John’s website, Aerographs Aviation Photography website.)

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AirVenture Volunteers: One Lady’s Story

By Robert Mark on August 31st, 2015 | 2 Comments »

AirVenture Volunteers: One Lady’s Story

Publisher Note: One of the best parts about Jetwhine is that Scott and I often receive stories from readers out of the blue. While we can’t use them all, there are some that simply jump to the top of the pile as soon as we finish reading them.

This story, sent in last July by Marah Carney from Emporia KS, really caught my eye because it reminded me so much of the days when I too volunteered on the EAA flight line. Perhaps because I was celebrating an anniversary this year of my first volunteer days with orange paddles directing airplanes, or maybe it was just the sense of fun and energy about flying that I picked up on in Marah’s story. Really doesn’t matter I guess. The point is that there are still quite a few young people with a keen interest in aviation, keen enough to stand around in the hot Wisconsin sun as they help the airplanes park at AirVenture.

marah 1

Three generations of Carney pilots. (L-R) Grandfather Glenn, Marah and Marah’s dad Mark

And yes, I did manage to meet Marah and her dad Bob at this year’s AirVenture, but it didn’t take much cajoling to get them to don those snappy Jetwhine buttons. 

Let me introduce you to Marah Carney, a student pilot and a Senior Member Captain in the Civil Air Patrol.

Rob

_________

Marshaling My Father

Ever since I was an AirVenture newcomer, I wanted to volunteer at the largest air show in the world. Nine years later in 2010, I finally had the opportunity. In the past, I would attend Oshkosh with my family. I have experienced the AirVenture culture by staying at Sleepy Hollow campground, boarding in a dorm room at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and from underneath the wing of our family’s aircraft on the North Forty. Then in 2010 I got to experience Oshkosh with the Civil Air Patrol at National Blue Beret. I worked hard to get slotted for National Blue Beret—many hours of training have finally paid off.

This year, I had the unique opportunity to marshal my father and grandfather into general aircraft camping (GAC). They took off in a Cessna 172 from small town Kansas headed for Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Our CAP’s Juliet Flight was tasked, Thursday morning, for Flight Line North. After a night’s stay in Portage, Wisconsin, my father and grandfather landed on runway 27 shortly after 0800. They pulled off onto the paved taxiway and began their trek to GAC.

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At AirVenture 2015, Jetwhine Publisher Rob Mark, Marah and Marah’s dad Mark

As a flight commander, my duty was to walk the flight line to check on the flight members and assist where needed. Because of a great distance between two marshalers, I was helping direct the ground traffic. Many Cessnas had landed about the same time, and all were in search of a camping spot. With the sun behind this particular Cessna, I could not tell the color or the tail number until it was almost past me. However, according a fellow fight member, I looked like a kid waving at my family after recognizing the tail number. Many hours of training had finally paid off.

It was a great privilege to marshal my father – then a fellow CAP member – and my hero at AirVenture 2010.

Marah Carney

A Finite Fraternity: Combat Fighter Ace

By Scott Spangler on August 24th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Frederick Payne, America’s oldest surviving combat fighter ace, died August 6 at age 104. According to his obituary in The New York Times, the retired U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general earned this singular achievement at the controls of a Grumman F4F Wildcat in the skies over Guadalcanal in 1942.

What’s interesting to me is that the pilots who will likely be America’s last two combat fighter aces, Duke Cunningham and Steve Ritchie, joined this finite community a mere 30 years after Payne, when they each downed the requisite five enemy aircraft in 1972 in the skies over Vietnam. Flying the F-4 Phantom, their back-seaters, William Driscoll and Charles DeBellevue, share this combat achievement. American aviators have logged a lot of combat time in the ensuring 43 years, but conflict has changed, and most of their targets are on the ground—or on the screen.

It seems clear that the era of the combat fighter ace exists only in history, and that those who’ve earned this distinction are members of a finite fraternity.

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